Come With Me So You Can See What’s Going On

If you don’t care for long, random “what’s been going on since my last substantial post” posts, you can always check out Newscoma, who gives us Dwarf in a Pie.

What’s been going on?

Mostly, we’ve been preparing for Lintilla’s upcoming (as in Tuesday) surgery to remove the tumor from her kidney.  They tell us she’ll be in the hospital 3 days (hopefully the gases will flow freely this time ūüôā and she can get discharged on time).  The plan is that she’ll spend two weeks at home recovering, then have a couple more weeks of “light duty”, then back to normal. 

We purposely chose next week because the kids will be on spring break, and we won’t have the logistical problem of getting the kids to and from school.  They’ll spend some time with friends from our church family, some time at the hospital, and some time at home. (That’s a whole other discussion.  They have the great combination of maturity and sloth which makes them uniquely qualified as 11-12 year olds to be at home alone in certain situations).

So, I’m struggling to get the house clean, because I know we’re going to have a LOT of visitors the next couple of weeks.  We’re trying to institute a chore calendar (about 6 years too late), so hopefully I’ll get a little help.  It gets a little tiring, cooking and cleaning for every one else while working a full time and a part time job and participating in a music mission.  I’ll admit, I’ve let up a little lately and just let the house go.  I’ll clean before dinner, but after dinner, the best I’ll do is get the dirty dishes to the sink.

Our kids aren’t bad; they’ve followed our priorities.  We’ve always asked them to be Professional Students, and they are.  They don’t think twice or complain about putting in 2-3, sometimes 4  hours a night doing homework, and it reflects in pretty good grades at a very challenging school.  Nevertheless, I could use a little help around here, so we’re trying to bring things back into balance.  Not to mention that cooking, cleaning and laundry are basic life skills, and they are going to need them when they become adults.

In a way, I’m glad Lintilla is going to be out of work for a few weeks.  Her employer seems to be going through major chaos right now, with officials resigning left and right, and some kind of power struggle going on over the home health and facility teams.  She needs to get away from all that work drama for a while; her job is tiring enough without all that stress.

My mom was in the hospital for a couple of days this week.  The doctors are pretty sure she had a TIA, or mini-stroke.  Her vision became blurred in one eye, and her speech slowed.  They’ve put her on Plavix, which she’s not happy about, but it’s a necessary evil.  It’s sad, because Mom had just started getting better from all her other problems related to a fall a couple of years ago.  She’s been almost pain free and has been getting her strength back.  Now, she must take two steps back and start again.  Meh.

The major reorganization at my job is turning out to be a good thing that rose out of the awful layoffs.  Our two-man team has been given responsibilities that match our skill sets, and we are a couple of excited geeks.  It’s been a little stressful, transitioning our current duties and the new ones, but we had both been in a slump since the layoffs, and this has lit a nerd fire in us again.  Plus, it looks like I’m going to get to move to a different floor for the first time in 13 years.

It tickles me me death that Trillian is writing a novel.  I was about her age when I wrote my first, and I’ve complained here endlessly about how the producers of Red Dawn stole my story!  Of course, my version was set in Smithville, TN, but I’m still amazed that I wrote a book in 5th grade and later saw the same story on the big screen.  ANYWAY, I told Trillian to write away, and when she’s done, I’ll proofread for her then we’ll try to get it published.

She said the funniest thing: that being a published author would be a great extracurricular activity when she applies to high schools.  Heh.

I’m thinking about growing my hair semi-long.  I want it to look like this guy, but every time I grow my hair out, it ends up looking like this guy.  And I have the really cool white chin beard which makes me look either like a wise sage, or a little dangerous like a suburban unibomber.

I have made our lives into a cliche.  Due to some awful decisions over the last few years, we are now living paycheck to paycheck.  It wasn’t George Bush’s fault, it wasn’t Barack Obama’s fault, it was us (especially me).  We are now in the situation of digging ourselves out.  God willing, I will stay employed long enough to get us out of it.  We need to hang on long enough to pay off one of the cars next year, then things should snowball nicely.  Looming out there is high school in a couple of years, which costs 30-50% more than we’re paying now.  If I don’t get out of this mess now, it will affect my kids’ lives forever.  That’s motivation.

But oddly enough, we’re going to Disney World in June!  Don’t worry, most of it is being paid for with points from our Disney Visa (one of those huge mistakes from the last few years).  For you Disneyphiles, we’ll be staying a Coronado Springs resort, and we’re on the dining plan.  We’re on the buy 4 nights get 3 free special, otherwise we’d never be able to stay on Disney property.  Due to all these danged surgeries, Lintilla hasn’t had a vacation in a few years, and dammit, this year she’s getting one.

The band is working hard on our next CD.  We’re trying to get it completed before the huge tent revival going on in the west side of town in May.  It’s going to be AWESOME, and just what this city needs in these tumultuous times.  If economy has you afraid, tired, or depressed – this revival will be just what the doctor ordered.  There’s going to be such a diverse gathering of believers, speakers and musicians!  Just seeing the waves of bikes pulling up from Covenant Confirmers will make coming out worth it for you!   I’ll be posting more about it as the days go by, just mark your calendars to come to the revival the weekend of May the 29th. 

That ought to be enough for now.  I don’t know what time I’ll have to post , so look for quick updates on Facebook.

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Feel Good Friday: Video Killed A Lot of Stuff

And thus began the fall of modern civilization.

In Which I Play The Contrarian

I usually stay out of the business of being a contrarian, there are people I respect¬†¬†who are far better than I¬†at it.¬† Nevertheless, there have been examples lately where it seems like the whole world thinks one way, and I just can’t bring myself to feel the same.¬† I almost never have had a thought I didn’t rush to post on this blog, so here goes.

The first example is pretty innocuous, I suppose.¬† This past Saturday, the family and I needed to make a grocery run, so we decided to see what all the hubub was about and went to Trader Joe’s.¬† I don’t need to tell you how much people rave about this place.¬† I hear it at work, at church, on the blogs.¬† “The place is incredible!”, I have been told time and again.

Well, let’s just say, I don’t get it.

First of all, the place was so small in comaparison to say, Kroger, that it’s hard to call it a grocery store.¬† I understand, it’s built for urban hipster wannabees, not big suburban families.¬† Even the carts are tiny.¬† I’m feeding two quasi teenagers and a couple of plus-sized adults.¬† Those carts are big enough to hold, well, lunch.¬† The largest unit of ground beef was 1 pound.

There were only store brands, which I expected, but that fact left me totally disoriented.¬† Which “crunchy puffs” or “organic wheat squares” is the equivalent of Life Cereal?¬† I was faced with performing a translation with every item I wanted to buy.¬† (Keep in mind, I’m a born-and-raised southerner.¬† Soft drinks, no matter what flavor, are “Cokes”.¬† Tissues are “Kleenexes”, no matter the brand).

Regardless, the place just left me frustrated and disoriented.¬† Give me my big box.¬† I want to feed my family and save money.¬† That’s all.

Maybe y’all can fill me in about what’s so great about Trader Joe’s.¬† I just don’t get it.

OK, now for the one that will cause every person that is reading this to feel an overwhelming urge to have me committed.  There is something that EVERYONE says, Democrat, Republican, left right, political junkie, political neophytes.  It is more than conventional wisdom that our president, Barack Obama, is a great orator.

I do not agree.

I just don’t think that Mr Obama is a great orator.¬† A great speaker, yes.¬† But not a great orator.¬† I’m afraid we’re living in a generation that has no frame of reference for great oratory, so we give the prize to anyone who is a good speech-giver.¬† Great oratory, in my opinion, is a specific thing.

Now, keep in mind, this is like giving one’s opinion of a particular piece of music.¬† Much of it is taste.¬† My criteria may not be yours, and that’s OK.¬† You can tell my why my criteria is wrong, if you know better.¬† Keep in mind also that my idea of great oratory is heavily influenced by my upbringing:¬† I am southern and religious.¬† So, of course, that will color my idea of just what great oratory is.

Above all, great oratory is very musical.  It must have a certain cadence. Mr Obama has a cadence, but I noticed in his quasi SOTUspeech, he rushes it, and he never variates the tempo.  Great oratory also makes use of the well-timed pause.  It also uses volume to great effect.  Mr Obama knows how to raise his voice during applause lines, but really great oratory requires the voice to soften at particularly poignant times.  The best can even add a touch of frailty to the voice at these moments. 

Mr Obama, like Celine Dion, doesn’t seem to¬†know how to get extra quiet for effect.

To be honest, Obama’s speaking style is that of a professor.¬† A very good professor, one whose lectures you never want to miss.¬† But, I think this is one of the places where he falls short of great oratory.

You see, like any good professor, he stands before the room, and speaks toeveryone there.  There is another level,one that only the great orators have mastered.  A great orator will start in the same position, standing in front of the listener and speaking to him.  However, sometime in the first third of the speech, he will figuratively approach the listener, pivot, and stand beside him.  This is usually done through humor (self-deprecating is best), which from Mr Obama always sounds forced.

Once “beside” the listener, the best orator can then place¬†his arm around the listener, and through his speech say,”Come, walk with me on this journey”. This is usually accomplished by personal anectdote leading to the first point in the meat of the speech.¬†

The great orator always has the listener (each and every one, individually) walking on a journey with him.

Mr Obama never takes us with him.¬† He stands before us and gives a lecture.¬† Once again, this is a great style, and he’s wonderful at it, but this is not great oratory.

Key elements are missing: pauses, variable cadence, appropriate and dramatic volumes, ample humor in the first and last thirds of the speech, and a certain warmth which, to be quite honest, Obama does not project at all.

Another great oratorical method (that I’ve used quite a bit), is leaving a stealth grenade.¬† In the first third of the speech, one leaves an idea, almost in passing, usually through anecdote.¬† It is then forgotten until the very end of the speech where it in reintroduced in new, profound ways, causing the listener to feel a sweet joy at discovering a Truth from the other side.¬† It’s hard to explain, you have to see it in practice.

For the record, very few political speakers in the modern era have all of these skills.¬† Bill Clinton had them, but he didn’t know when to shut up, and usually lost the listener by the time he got to the 6th point of his ten-point plan.¬† Reagan had bits and pieces, but I never heard a speech from him with all of the needed¬†elements (let’s face it, Reagan didn’t do cadence).¬† JFK , in the speeches I’ve seen, was a great orator.¬† He had all the elements.

I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you:¬† the best orators I ever heard were Martin Luther King, Jr, and Billy Graham. Yeah, I know…southern preachers.¬†

Like I said, you might have different criteria for what great oratory is.¬† I’ve told you mine, and president Obama does not quite measure up.¬† This is not to say he isn’t a great speaker.¬† But great oratory, like I said, is a specific thing.

Awkward Moments

My employer, having recently laid off 10% of its IT workforce, did what a company has to do when such things happen, and put instituted a major personnel reorganization.¬† As expected, I’ve been moved to a new department with an entirely new mission.¬† I’m not upset about this at all – I am far more comfortable with change than I am with stagnation.

My new boss, whom I met for the first time last week, very wisely sent out questionaires to all the employees he now manages, in order to get a decent handle on our skills and current responsibilities.  There were also several housekeeping questions (upcoming time off, etc).  And a question which brought an answer out of me that was quite unexpected.

The question was “Area of Professional Interest”, meaning the typical “Where do you want to take yourself professionally in the next few years?”¬† I answered the usual answers: upgrading certifications, learning the latest toolset, cross-training within my new department.¬† But then, without thinking much about it, I added this:

Long range: Go back to school to complete BA or BS degree.

After I hit “send”, I looked at the form again, and said, “What the?¬† Where did THAT come from?¬† I haven’t even considered college in over 20 years!”

And now, I’m left sorting out why I have this desire I’ve left dormant for more longer than your average college graduate has been alive.¬† You see, if I were to do such a thing, I would want to do it for the right reasons – not as some mid-life crisis self-indulgence, certainly.¬† My own kids’ education HAS to come first.

Being from a blue collar family, I have the typical working class view of higher education: it is a means to an end.¬† It is training more than enlightenment.¬† Learning for its own sake is important; as a Christian, I consider it my duty to “think God’s thoughts after him”.¬† Lintilla and I have built our family life where learning is something we just do, like eating.¬† Our kids have accepted this.¬† But, I can’t help where I come from and how I was raised: In my view, formal education should prepare a person for a specific job or career.¬† I know you may disagree with this, but I’m too old to change who I am.

So, that brings up an interesting question.¬† If I put in all the extra work it would require to get a degree (I would basically be starting all over), to what end?¬† In my chosen field, I am pretty highly compensated (till the healthcare industry collapses, at least).¬† I don’t see how a newly minted BS added to my resume would help my career, considering I’d be over 50 when I completed it.¬† I can imagine the most common comment being, “You did it backwards, didn’t you?”.¬† No, I’ve gotten this far without a degree; if I stay on this path.

I’ve made it no secret that, mid-life, I’d love to switch careers and become a writer.¬† Journalist, columnist, author – it really doesn’t matter; I could be happy with any of them.¬† But, here’s the problem.¬† Anyone who’s paid attention knows a J-school degree, still based on the old industries that are dying, is becoming worth less and less.¬† An English degree?¬† Yeah, I’d have a ball getting it, but I just don’t see what that would buy me.

I don’t want to bore you with anymore details of my musings; just know that the world is open to me…I could go in almost any direction.¬† The specifics I can work out, maybe with a little career counseling.

But, one thing is certain:¬† there is a part of me that desperately wants to right this ancient wrong.¬† I have few regrets, but this is one of them.¬† I was supposed to have been the son who would be the first to get a degree; my brother, in his 40’s, acheived that distinction instead (and I am proud of him!).

And then there are those awkward moments, when I’m having a conversation with this or that person, and I’m wowing them with my intellect and creativity.¬† Then, the subject changes to which school I graduated from.¬† When I tell them, there is a change in their eyes.¬† you can almost see the person’s mind working overtime, reworking the view of who I am and where I fit in relation to them.¬† He or she, in that split second, takes me out of one box, and puts me in another.¬†

I am diminished in their eyes.¬† They don’t say it out loud, but it’s still there to see.

A lifetime of those awkward moments eats away at a guy, you know?

So, I’m going to see what I can do about it.